Monday, April 20, 2009

don't bother trying to see it all

I may have missed the cherry blossoms, but tulips are out in full force. I didn't know DC was known for tulips. This isn't a good picture of them, I was just trying to take a more interesting shot of the Capitol at dusk. They are absolutely everywhere, in all colors.

I probably would have benefitted from some more research before getting here. I showed up with two guide books, barely cracked open, and a laptop. After a couple of days I had a scribbled list of things I wanted to see, based on readings and conversations, and have knocked off a couple items each day, but I've been deciding what to do over coffee each morning, and this only after waking up sort of late. I suppose sleeping in isn't awful, since this is a vacation, but the museums are only open for so long.

Saturday I decided to go to the Holocaust Museum. You need a ticket to get into the permanent exhibit, which is free, but has a timed entry. I had about two hours to kill before my 2:15 entry, so I took in the State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda exhibit - it includes some historic videos and recordings, but is mostly printed matter, both text and graphics. Even after taking my time and reading all the blurbs, I had time to kill, but not enough to hit another museum close-by. The entry line had also grown, so I didn't want to go outside to eat lunch (you're not supposed to eat inside the museum), and then get stuck in a line coming back in. I just parked it on a bench for a bit, and tried to ignore the starting-to-get-hungry feelings I was having.

The permanent exhibit takes up two-and-half floors, and from the top down moves fairly chronologically through through WWII, and ends with a look at modern-day genocide. It's excellent, but wasn't grabbing my rapt attention. Partially because I was exposed to most of the same material fairly recently when I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau; in some cases, literally the same exhibits, or part of, that were on loan, including piles of shoes and personal belongings. Some of the photos from the propaganda exhibit were also repeated. And, not to be a complete ice queen, but when reflecting on these events as a whole, I've been desensitized by overexposure to both history and current events. It doesn't surprise me that humans are monsters and do terrible things. It rarely stirs a visceral reaction. I regard them with an almost clinical detachment. Exhibits and aspects that focus on individuals and personal stories are more compelling, and the museum understands this. To get to the start of the exhibit, you need to take a ride in a small elevator, and on your way in you pick up an identity card which has the story of one individual. Midway through the exhibit, there's a three-story tower lined with 50 years of photographs from Jewish community in what is now Lithuania, and another section closer to the end that lists the names of all known rescuers, and highlights some of their stories. I wanted to take some time to look at the photographs, but the tower is designed with a narrow bridge crossing the room, and there's nowhere to stand to the side to get out of the way of the clog of people coming up behind. You walk through the room again on the floor below, which has more space, but then the bridge is above you.

If I could do it again, I would do this museum in stages. Propaganda exhibit one day, permanent exhibit another day, in particular a day when I have lots of time and energy to take the time to read an absorb details. I sort of wish I had skipped the permanent exhibit this time round, since there's a bunch of other things I want to see, and my time here is running out.

It was closing in on 5:00 by the time I left. Finally, food. I stuffed down a cream cheese and avocado sandwich and a bag of Sun Chips in record time. If I had just crammed the chips inside the sandwich I could have eaten it faster. Most of the food I've eaten on this trip is fuel food. I don't care about fine dining, I care about not being hungry and having the energy to get through whatever I have planned next. I'm even making myself eat breakfast, in which I normally never partake. After dusting the crumbs off my lap, I walked to the Archives, but the line was out the door and down the block. The only other free museum open later than 5:30 is the Smithsonian American Art and National Portrait Gallery. It's a few blocks north of the Mall, and I'm not sure which percentage of DC tourists/Smithsonian hoppers actually venture the short walk uphill to find it. It wasn't empty, but there was plenty of breathing room. I think I only made it through a little more than half before it closed. I hadn't bothered to pick up a map when I came in, and off the third floor, quite by chance, wandered into the Lunder Conservation Center. Glass walls allow visitors to look right into the conservation labs, which look like a mash-up between a chemistry lab and an art studio - large tables, big rolls of paper, moveable air vent ducts snaking out the ceiling, cameras or other electronic equipment on articulated arms also coming out of the ceiling, easels, stuff like that. Regrettably, since it was Saturday, no one was at work conserving. I had to content myself with a few videos. I'm going to try to make it back sometime during the week. At some point after college, I considered going back to study for art restoration. Not sure why I didn't - most likely apathy - but I don't think I have the disposition to carry out that kind of work. I wonder if conservators ever fear they are going to ruin whatever they are working on. I remember one conservator, I can't remember where, talking about the importance of knowing chemistry, and what solution will have which effect, citing as an example the story of another conservator who wiped out an artist's signature by mistake while cleaning a painting. He probably didn't mean to clean it that much.

No comments: